By Ivan Carter
Saturday, September 27, 2008
No, it's not the movie "Groundhog Day," it's the opening of Washington Wizards training camp. Things just feel exactly the same. Once again, the Wizards are coming off a first-round playoff loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers and once again, star guard Gilbert Arenas is recovering from knee surgery. There are a few differences: Gone is popular local product Roger Mason Jr., but back is popular local product Juan Dixon, as well as center Etan Thomas. Otherwise, the Wizards are the same team that overcame the absence of Arenas to win 43 games and make the playoffs last season.
1.Remember How to Win Without Arenas
This shouldn't be very difficult because the Wizards had plenty of practice last season when Arenas was limited to 13 games and four in the playoffs. All-stars Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison must carry the scoring and leadership duties and everyone else must fall into designated roles. No single player can make up for Arenas's 30 points per game average or his shot-making in the clutch, but the Wizards have shown that they can win without the three-time all-star if they share the ball, rebound and play solid defense.
2.Breakout Time for Blatche?
Even though Andray Blatche is only 21 years old, he is entering his fourth NBA season. With 167 games under his belt, the organization is counting on him to make major strides this season. So far, Blatche has alternately wowed fans and teammates with his talents and frustrated them with his inconsistency and displays of immaturity. Blatche can set the tone with a strong camp.
3.Defense, Defense, Defense
For the second straight year, Coach Eddie Jordan said he will go into training camp emphasizing defense. The addition of assistant coach Randy Ayers and a tweaked system resulted in improvement last season and the Wizards must show similar improvement again if they want to keep up with an improved Eastern Conference.
4.Who Backs Up Caron?
Butler was one of the best players in the league during the first half last season, but his heavy minutes took a toll and he was hampered by various injuries during the second half. To keep Butler fresh, a backup must emerge. Dominic McGuire will get the first crack; however, veterans DerMarr and Linton Johnson were signed to push him. Blatche also has the physical tools to play small forward. Expect Jordan to look at all of them during the preseason.
5.Welcome Back, Etan
Veteran Etan Thomas is back after missing all of last season following heart surgery and the team has cleared him for practices and game action. It may take some time for Thomas to reestablish a rhythm and get into game shape so look for him to see plenty of action during the preseason.